Progression of Art
In this terrifying scene, Beckmann depicts a chaotic and violent event. Intruders have taken a family hostage, overturned their belongings, and are torturing them. The father hangs from his neck while one of the men twists his arm. Beckmann implies that one of the invaders raped the mother, with her wrists bound and her legs splayed and backside exposed, and a blond-haired child reaches out as another man attempts to carry her out of the room.
Beckmann intensifies the emotional charge of the scene with an illogical composition. For example, the woman seems to occupy the space in the foreground, and yet her hands are bound to a post that appears to be in the background. This distortion of space along with the exaggerated and fractured figures show Bekcmann's debt not only to Cubism but Expressionism as well, making The Night a transitional painting between Expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit.
Having been supportive of the Great War, Beckmann became disillusioned with war and violence after having served as a medic in the military. Subsequently, he claimed that the role of the artist was to portray the "calamity" of the current situation: "We must be a part of all the misery which is coming. We have to surrender our heart and our nerves....It's the only course of action which might give purpose to our superfluous and selfish existence (as artists) that we give people a picture of their fate."
While Beckmann saw nothing good of the violence that the war had wrought, the scene is not without some ambivalence. As art critic Jonathan Jones argues that the scene "connects itself with images of sex and nocturnal adventure, especially with a scene in William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress, where we see the Rake indulging himself at a house of ill repute in London.". From this perspective, the work echoes a complexity of emotions, combining both "pain and pleasure, torture and desire." Both perpetrators and victims are rendered in the same way, thus in some sense rendering them on equal footing despite the events transpiring.
Oil on canvas - Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany
The painting depicts two bare-chested ladies dancing on a stage, with classical musicians in full tuxedoes playing behind them. Men in suits and official uniforms casually observe the scene. Painted just after the war, Schlichter provides a glimpse into the popular musical cabarets, with their suggestive female performers, that were so popular at the time.
These cabarets were known to be places where drugs and sex were in abundant supply. In normalizing the dancers, likely also prostitutes, the painting acts as a criticism and satirical analysis of society's decadence, a main theme of the New Objectivity movement. Schlichter's use of bright colors, his caricature-like portrayal of the men, and the awkwardness of the women underscore that the Neue Sachlichkeit artists were not interested in meticulously representing the details of what they saw but exposing the underlying truth of the current reality, which they saw as corrupt and bankrupt.
The subject of the cabaret went on to enjoy a life in popular culture, including the 1951 musical Cabaret, and the later film adaptation in 1972 that featured Liza Minelli. These depictions, however, were largely nostalgic and not quite as searing.
Watercolor on paper - Private Collection
Self-Portrait with a Cigarette
One of some 80 portraits painted over his life, here Max Beckmann presents himself in a suit and tie, holding a cigarette, seated before an ochre-colored wall. Perhaps more than the other Neue Sachlichkeit artists, Beckmann probed himself and his inner life in numerous self-portraits. Although he is often known for his "expressionist" language, he rejected the term, the movement, and their artistic ideas altogether. His time as an army medic led to a nervous breakdown, and the misery he witnessed during the war was reflected in his painting style. As critic Edward Sorel explained, "The brutality that they endured or witnessed scarred their psyches and darkened their outlook forever."
During this time, Beckmann frequented the house of Dr. Heinrich Simon, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung, and another frequent guest recalled Beckmann during these meetings, "Nothing about him betrayed that he was an artist, but one sensed that in this circle of important men sat one who surpassed them all in concentrated power. His angular head was set on a short neck on his solidly built, athletic body. His face was hard, his profile sharp... not unlike a military inspector... He wore clothes that were too tight and looked like a workman in his Sunday best....His disdain for people was considerable. But under his prickly shell he concealed a highly vulnerable sensitivity, one that he sometimes mockingly exposed." In this particular portrait, Beckman holds a saffron-colored, red polka-dotted scarf on his lap, which references the costume of a clown, a common subject in Beckmann's painting, and thus undermines, or mocks, the dominance he transmitted. Beckmann was not above probing and criticizing his own self as he did other subjects.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Verwundeter (Wounded Soldier)
One of fifty prints in a portfolio titled Der Krieg (The War), Dix portrayed a wounded soldier in combat, surrounded by explosions, in a dark and highly dramatic setting. The character's facial expression suggests agony and suffering, and the overall scene and rendering allude to an imminent death. Dix himself participated in the war as an artillery gunner and faced ferocious battle in Somme and on the Eastern Front, where he was wounded several times. Curator Mark Henshaw describes the print having a "nightmarish, hallucinatory quality" and that "paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail." Dix seems to use the printing processes, in which one exposes the metal plate to multiple acid baths, as a metaphor for what happens to human flesh during war.
The prints in Der Krieg all portray the brutality of war and the subsequent social calamity defined by prostitutes, crippled soldiers, and violence, pointing to the ruination and hardening of individuals who experience these cataclysms. Dix certainly had in mind Goya's Disasters of War series (1810-1820), but introduced a more critical and aggressive perspective. Like Goya, Dix strove to depict the objective brutality of the war and its aftermath, but as art historian Matthias Eberle points out, "Dix attacked with a bitter anger only a veteran could feel, the indifference of civilians to the suffering of the war-victims." Dix's publisher circulated the prints among a pacifist organization called Never Again War, but Dix, in his cynical view of humanity, had no illusion that his work might prevent a future war.
Etching, aquatint, drypoint - Collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Child Portrait (Peter in Sicily)
Schrimpf presents a portrait of his son Peter, while in Sicily. The child stands holding onto the balcony railing, while another terrace of the palazzo and green rolling hills appear in the middle and backgrounds. Schrimpf searched for a more poetical type of realism, believing that the calmness and harmony of a timeless approach could counterbalance the turbulent climate of the Weimar Republic. Unlike the Verists, Grosz and Dix, the Classicists of the Neue Sachlichkeit, eschewed satire and caricature for monumental, weighty figures that spoke to a nostalgia for an earlier time.
Despite this desire to flout this unsettled time, Schrimpf combines Classicism with Magic Realism in such a way that this portrait is not without commentary. Dressed in the typical children's fashion of the day, the young boy stands with a puzzled, even reserved expression on his face. Schrimpf and other Neue Sachlichkeit artists insisted on the unsentimental portrayal of all their subjects, even children. While we often think of children's innocence, their wonder at the world, and their sense of play, Schrimpf's portrayal suggests something more sinister, more foreboding, more alienating - a mood we would expect with the portrayal of disillusioned adults. The child's outsized proportion to his surrounding also adds a surrealistic quality to the composition that is rather disconcerting. Schrimpf was profoundly influenced by his countless visits to Italy and was a great admirer of Renaissance art, but it was the Pittura metafisica (metaphysical art) of Carlo Carrà and Giorgio de Chirico that had the greatest impact on Schrimpf's Magic Realism and naïve style.
Oil on canvas - Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden
During the Weimar Republic, a new type of woman emerged. She wore bobbed hair, smoked cigarettes, and drank cocktails. She was sexually liberated and career oriented. The "New Woman" was androgynous and bohemian, and she was the source of much anxiety among male artists, writers, and intellectuals. In some ways, Dix glorifies the journalist and poet Sylvia von Harden as the embodiment of the New Woman, but as with all of Dix portraits, he did not strive to make her beautiful. As one art historian describes, "Dix stripped his sitters of all pretenses and staged their subjecthood as either victim or prop of social construction," and here Dix subtly pulls back the curtain on the New Woman.
While all of the attributes of the New Woman are present - the haircut, the cigarette, the cocktail - Dix distorts the figure to call attention to her seeming lack of feminine attributes. Her hands are oversized, and while their placement recalls the pose of the Venus de Milo, with one hand covering the breasts and the other her pudendum, here, von Harden's geometric dress completely flattens her breasts, nullifying the need for cover. Additionally, the placement of her left hand actually leads one's eye to the sitter's knees, and one sees a strikingly realistic detail: the stocking on her right leg has rolled down below her hem line, exposing her pale flesh. Such unkemptness, or lack of decorum in a public space, subverts respectable femininity. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that her overly long and cylindrical neck is rather machinelike. Overall, the harshness of her facial features, the flattening of her figure, the mechanizing of her body - all contrasted with the ornate curves of the chair in which she sits - presents an ambivalent view of Dix's friend and the new stereotype.
Mixed media on wood - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I
The work pictures flat irons, used in shoe manufacturing, organized in a very orderly and systematic way. It is exemplary of Albert Renger-Patzsch's body of work that aimed to capture the "reality" of ordinary objects. This fascination with the beauty of the commonplace granted him the title of "photographer of things." In 1927, Renger-Patzsch wrote, "We still don't sufficiently appreciate the opportunity to capture the magic of material things. The structure of wood, stone, and metal can be shown with a perfection beyond the means of painting....To do justice to modern technology's rigid linear structure...only photography is capable of that." These sharp, objective, and realistic depictions of life made him a key artist of the New Objectivity movement.
The sense of order was one of Renger-Patzsch's main themes, and the way in which he captures the objects' matter-of-factness lends an air of scientific illustration to the photograph. It should be noted that in his striving for "the truth" Renger-Patzsch's photographs seem to be impartial, without judgment or critique, an attribute completely lacking among his painter colleagues.
While his 1928 book of photographs entitled Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful), a title forced on him by his publisher, was extremely popular and is a precursor to the industrial photographs of Bernd and Hilla Becher that came a few decades later, he remained largely unknown in the United States at the time.
Gelatin silver print - The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Eclipse of the Sun
In Eclipse of the Sun, Grosz critiques the power and greed of the military industrial complex that grew after World War I. He depicts the war-hero-turned-German-president Paul von Hindenburg whispering into the ear of a military-leader-turned-industrialist while besuited bureaucrats, without heads, furiously agree to and sign off on their desires. In the upper left corner, the sun has been eclipsed by a dollar sign. Art historian Matthias Eberle argues that the squints of the men in charge make it seem like they "cannot see past the end of their nose," and the headlessness of the bureaucrats suggest their mindless, unthinking acceptance. A donkey with blinders stands atop the table representing the bourgeoisie, blinded to what is transpiring in the upper echelons of their government, and to the right of a table, a young person behind bars might represent the future children the leaders have no apparent thought for or a dissident voice. Ominously, a skeleton lurks in the bottom right corner.
The satirical and metaphorical nature of this work is exemplary of Grosz' painting output. His unique artistic language of cartoon-like caricature employs irony, humor, and exaggeration in order to expose and ridicule the underlying conflicts that plagued Weimar society. Art critic Michael Kimmelman boldly stated, "More than any other artist since Daumier, Grosz captured through caricature the political spirit of a particular moment, and his vision of Germany between the world wars has lost none of its power to startle or frighten."
Oil on canvas - Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York
A man in a translucent shirt sits on a covered bed next to a reclining, nude woman, whose hand grazes her hip and who looks straight ahead of her, outside of the canvas. Behind them, a diaphanous curtain separates the couple from a skyline in the twilight. The self-consciously posed figures - the man is Schad's self-portrait - the plethora of symbols, and the mysterious mood of the painting do not add up to a moment of sensuousness but belie a coldness and suggest something more allegorical.
Schad, who averts his eyes from the viewer, wears a translucent shirt, covering and exposing himself simultaneously. The shirt might be a reference to the Italian paintings he studied in Italy in the first half of the 1920s. The woman, perhaps an embodiment of the bohemian "New Woman" and/or a prostitute, is severe, with angular features and a bobbed haircut. Heavily make-upped, she bears a long scar down her chin, likely inflicted by a man who was adamant about marking his property and warning off other suitors. She wears a ribbon around her wrist, and one can see the cuff of her red, silk stocking, just over Schad's right shoulder. Rather mysteriously, a narcissus flower appears behind her, the lip of the vase barely visible above her breast. The flower, pointed toward the artist, alludes to the Greek myth of Narcissus who drowned while trying to embrace his own reflection in a pool of water. Art historian Linda Nochlin claims that the painting is a "a haunting image that - partly because of the picture surface's seductive smoothness and partly due to the subject matter's dreamlike perversity - persists in the mind's eye long after the actual experience of viewing the painting."
Although his early works show a clear influence of Cubism and Futurism, Schad developed his iconic realistic language during his stay in Italy, where he was especially influenced by Raphael. Turning his back on Expressionism and abstraction, he developed his own language that was associated with both the Classicist and Magic Realist branches of Neue Sachlichkeit.
Oil on Wood - Tate Modern, London
Coal Carrier, Berlin
A man with stubble on his chin and wearing dirty, worn pants and jacket steps up and out of a darkened doorway carrying a basket full of coal from the bowels of a building.
Along with Albert Renger-Patzsch, August Sander was one of the most influential photographers associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit group. He did not portray the beauty of industrial objects but instead aimed to portray the reality of ordinary life in the Weimar Republic at the time. As he said, "Nothing is more hateful to me than photography sugar-coated with gimmicks, poses and false effects. Therefore, let me speak the truth in all honesty about our age and the people of our age."
This photograph was part of his book entitled the Face of our Time published in 1929, which contained a selection of 60 of his portraits from a larger series entitled People of the 20th Century. Sander organized the portraits into categories: farmers, tradesman, woman, classes and professions, artists, city and "the last people," which portrayed homeless men and women along with war veterans. Critic Laura Cumming writes of these portraits, "Each person presents him or herself with more or less gravity to be fixed in black and white forever, and each is bared in that moment - giving themselves away." Sander's portraits not only document the types of workers and various classes but capture an array of emotions that all people, no matter their status, experience.
Sander worked in large formats and in slow exposures, sometimes over three seconds long, in order to capture the slightest details of his subjects. Sometimes recorded in the subject's work environment and sometimes created in the studio, these portraits portray the complex variety of Germany society. Cumming adds, "It's rightly said that some of Sander's photographs are as historically detailed as a passage of Zola. Together they amount to a journey through German society in a disastrous era."
Gelatin silver print - J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles